Expert Birders Discuss Conservation Threats and Opportunities at National Geographic Society: The National Audubon Society, BirdLife International, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Geographic Explorers talk bird migration, conservation efforts, and what the loss of birds means for humankind.

On February 15, in partnership with the National Audubon Society, BirdLife International and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Geographic Society hosted and livestreamedan event at the Society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., featuring global thought leaders in the study and conservation of birds. The event is part of the Society’s efforts to mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever enacted. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate the “Year of the Bird” and committing to protect birds today and for the next hundred years.

Throughout the presentations and panel discussions, experts explored how technology is expanding our understanding of migration. Representatives from a broad array of conservation organizations shared and compared knowledge and efforts on the critical need to conserve birds. Speakers included:

  • Jonathan Baillie, Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President of Science and Exploration, National Geographic Society;

  • John Fitzpatrick, Director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology;

  • Gary Langham, Vice President and Chief Scientist, National Audubon Society;

  • Amanda Rodewald, Director of Conservation Science, Cornell Lab of Ornithology;

  • Kristen Ruegg, Research Biologist, University of California Santa Cruz;

  • Martin Wikelski, Director, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology – Radolfzell;

  • David Yarnold, President and CEO, National Audubon Society; and

  • Patricia Zurita, CEO, BirdLife International.

Panelists, including National Geographic Explorers Kristen Ruegg and Martin Wikelski, agreed the path forward to protect birds includes increasing public enthusiasm and support for birds and employing a great deal of citizen science.

Wikelski and his colleagues track birds using tiny “bird bands,” creating a global system for understanding bird movement. He explained that people around the world can support scientists’ efforts to document changes in bird migration routes and strategies.

Panelist Kristen Ruegg, National Geographic Explorer and founder of the Bird Genoscape Project, studies migration routes and strategies. Her work includes gathering DNA from bird feathers to trace birds’ breeding areas along their migratory trajectories.

National Geographic Society’s Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President of Science and Exploration Jonathan Baillie noted enthusiasm for birds is necessary in promoting their conservation.

The Year of the Bird is a chance to inform and engage a global community, inspire action, and reach National Geographic Society’s ultimate goal: a planet in balance. Throughout 2018, National Geographic and partner organizations will highlight compelling storytelling, science, research and conservation efforts that will shed light on the vital role birds play in the future of the planet. Each month, bird lovers can visit our website to learn about actions they can take to protect birds and check out monthly stories and articles about our feathered friends.


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